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Feeding the world while protecting the planet

Feeding the world while protecting the planet is one of the biggest challenges of our time, jeopardised by an ailing food system afflicted by serious contradictions. 30% of all food is wasted, 795 million people go to bed hungry every night, while two billion suffer from health problems linked to obesity and one of the main causes, responsible for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, is agriculture. Today, 7.3 billion people consume one and a half times the natural resources that the planet is able to provide and by 2050, when the world’s population will grow to 9.5 billion the demand for food will double.

This is the striking snapshot provided by the book Eating Planet, which clearly highlights the role that agriculture can play in mitigating the critical environmental problems threatening the Planet (representing as it does man’s biggest use of land at nearly 40% and the human activity which consumes the greatest amount of fresh water, equivalent to 70% of the total) while at the same time being one of the principal victims.

Although food is currently one of the most popular social trends, people rarely look beyond aesthetic elements to the facts on how it influences the planet, ecosystems, biodiversity and society. As a consequence, food has been stripped of any inherent value, becoming a simple product among many. With only commercial but no ethical value, it is wasted and is highly unsustainable from cultivation right through to when it ends up on our plate.

Nevertheless, overcoming the current paradoxes is possible, starting from the essential concept that there is no contradiction between eating healthily and reducing our impact on the global environment. Changing the current agricultural system is feasible and needs to be done as soon as possible. We need to focus on the “symptoms” of the ailing system, from the environmental debt accumulated over years of damaging over-exploitation of resources, land, water and biodiversity and opt for a fundamental “ecological shift”.

Eating Planet uses cutting-edge data to tackle the cultural challenge of departing from the economic approach based on exploitation and appeals to scientists, members of the private sector, environmental activists and civil society to describe visions and possibilities for sustainable development “in harmony with nature” as the only hope for the future.

Donatella Bianchi
President of WWF Italy
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